The holladay case a tal.., p.12
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       The Holladay Case: A Tale, p.12

           Burton Egbert Stevenson
 
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  CHAPTER XII

  At the Cafe Jourdain

  Fifty-four West Houston Street, just three blocks south of WashingtonSquare, was a narrow, four-storied-and-basement building, of graybrick with battered brown-stone trimmings--at one time, perhaps, afashionable residence, but with its last vestige of glory long sincedeparted. In the basement was a squalid cobbler's shop, and therestaurant occupied the first floor. Dirty lace curtains hung at thewindows, screening the interior from the street; but when I mountedthe step to the door and entered, I found the place typical of itsclass. I sat down at one of the little square tables, and ordered abottle of wine. It was Monsieur Jourdain himself who brought it: alittle, fat man, with trousers very tight, and a waistcoat verydazzling. The night trade had not yet begun in earnest, so he was forthe moment at leisure, and he consented to drink a glass of wine withme--I had ordered the "superieur."

  "You have lodgings to let, I suppose, on the floors above?" Iquestioned.

  He squinted at me through his glass, trying, with French shrewdness,to read me before answering.

  "Why, yes, we have lodgings; still, a man of monsieur's habit wouldscarcely wish----"

  "The habit does not always gauge the purse," I pointed out.

  "That is true," he smiled, sipping his wine. "Monsieur then wishes alodging?"

  "I should like to look at yours."

  "You understand, monsieur," he explained, "that this is a goodquarter, and our rooms are not at all the ordinar' rooms--oh, no, theyare quite superior to that. They are in great demand--we have only onevacant at this moment--in fact, I am not certain that it is yet atliberty. I will call my wife."

  She was summoned from behind the counter, where she presided at themoney-drawer, and presented to me as Madame Jourdain. I filled a glassfor her.

  "Monsieur, here, is seeking a lodging," he began. "Is the one on thesecond floor, back, at our disposal yet, Celie?"

  His wife pondered the question a moment, looking at me with sharplittle eyes.

  "I do not know," she said at last. "We shall have to ask MonsieurBethune. He said he might again have need of it. He has paid for ituntil the fifteenth."

  My heart leaped at the name. I saw that I must take the bull by thehorns--assume a bold front; for if they waited to consult my pursuer,I should never gain the information I was seeking.

  "It was through Monsieur Bethune that I secured your address," I saidboldly. "He was taken ill this morning; his heart, you know," and Itapped my chest.

  They nodded, looking at me, nevertheless, with eyes narrow withsuspicion.

  "Yes, monsieur, we know," said Jourdain. "The authorities at thehospital at once notified us."

  "It is not the first attack," I asserted, with a temerity born ofnecessity. "He has had others, but none so serious as this."

  They nodded sympathetically. Plainly they had been considerablyimpressed by their lodger.

  "So," I continued brazenly, "he knows at last that his condition isvery bad, and he wishes to remain at the hospital for some days untilhe has quite recovered. In the meantime, I am to have the second floorback, which was occupied by the ladies."

  I spoke the last word with seeming nonchalance, without the quiver ofa lash, though I was inwardly a-quake; for I was risking everythingupon it. Then, in an instant I breathed more freely. I saw that I hadhit the mark, and that their suspicions were gradually growing less.

  "They, of course, are not coming back," I added; "at least, not for along time; so he has no further use for the room. This is thefourteenth--I can take possession to-morrow."

  They exchanged a glance, and Madame Jourdain arose.

  "Very well, monsieur," she said. "Will you have the kindness to comeand look at the room?"

  I followed her up the stair, giddy at my good fortune. She opened adoor and lighted a gas-jet against the wall.

  "I am sure you will like the apartment, monsieur," she said. "You see,it is a very large one and most comfortable."

  It was, indeed, of good size and well furnished. The bed was in a kindof alcove, and beyond it was a bath--unlooked-for luxury! One thing,however, struck me as peculiar. The windows were closed by heavyshutters, which were barred upon the inside, and the bars were securedin place by padlocks.

  "I shall want to open the windows," I remarked. "Do you always keepthem barred?"

  She hesitated a moment, looking a little embarrassed.

  "You see, monsieur, it is this way," she explained, at last. "MonsieurBethune himself had the locks put on; for he feared that his poorsister would throw herself down into the court-yard, which is pavedwith stone, and where she would certainly have been killed. She wasvery bad some days, poor dear. I was most glad when they took heraway: for the thought of her made me nervous. I will in the morningopen the windows, and air the room well for you."

  "That will do nicely," I assented, as carelessly as I could. I knewthat I had chanced upon a new development, though I could not in theleast guess its bearing. "What do you ask for the apartment?"

  "Ten dollars the week, monsieur," she answered, eying me narrowly.

  I knew it was not worth so much, and, remembering my character,repressed my first inclination to close the bargain.

  "That is a good deal," I said hesitatingly. "Haven't you a cheaperroom, Madame Jourdain?"

  "This is the only one we have now vacant, monsieur," she assured me.

  I turned back toward the door with a little sigh.

  "I fear I can't take it," I said.

  "Monsieur does not understand," she protested. "That price, of course,includes breakfast."

  "And dinner?"

  She hesitated, eying me again.

  "For one dollar additional it shall include dinner."

  "Done, madame!" I cried. "I pay you for a week in advance," and Isuited the action to the word. "Only," I added, "be sure to air theroom well to-morrow--it seems very close. Still, Bethune was right tomake sure that his sister could not harm herself."

  "Yes," she nodded, placing the money carefully in an old purse, withthe true miserly light in her eyes. "Yes--she broke down mostsudden--it was the departure of her mother, you know, monsieur."

  I nodded thoughtfully.

  "When they first came, six weeks ago, she was quite well. Then hermother a position of some sort secured and went away; she never lefther room after that, just sat there and cried, or rattled at the doorsand windows. Her brother was heartbroken about her--no one else wouldhe permit to attend her. But I hope that she is well now, poor child,for she is again with her mother."

  "Her mother came after her?" I asked.

  "Oh, yes; ten days ago, and together they drove away. By this time,they are again in the good France."

  I pretended to be inspecting a wardrobe, for I felt sure my face wouldbetray me. At a flash, I saw the whole story. There was nothing moreMadame Jourdain could tell me.

  "Yes," I repeated, steadying my voice, "the good France."

  "Monsieur Bethune has himself been absent for a week," she added, "onaffairs of business. He was not certain that he would return, but hepaid us to the fifteenth."

  I nodded. "Yes: to-morrow--I will take possession then."

  "Very well, monsieur," she assented; "I will have it in readiness."

  For an instant, I hesitated. Should I use the photograph? Was itnecessary? How explain my possession of it? Did I not already knowall that Madame Jourdain could tell me? I turned to the stair.

  "Then I must be going," I said; "I have some business affairs toarrange," and we went down together.

  The place was filling with a motley crowd of diners, but I paused onlyto exchange a nod with Monsieur Jourdain, and then hurried away. Thefugitives had taken the French line, of course, and I hastened on tothe foot of Morton Street, where the French line pier is. A ship wasbeing loaded for the voyage out, and the pier was still open. A clerkdirected me to the sailing schedule, and a glance at it confirmed myguess. At ten o'clock on the morning of Thursday, April 3d, _LaSavoie_ had sailed for
Havre.

  "May I see _La Savoie's_ passenger list?" I asked.

  "Certainly, sir," and he produced it.

  I did not, of course, expect to find Miss Holladay entered upon it,yet I felt that a study of it might be repaid; and I was notmistaken. A Mrs. G. R. Folsom and two daughters had occupied the_cabine de luxe_, 436, 438, 440; on the company's list, which had beengiven me, I saw bracketed after the name of the youngest daughter thesingle word "invalide."

  "_La Lorraine_ sails day after to-morrow, I believe?" I asked.

  "Yes, sir."

  "And is she full?"

  "No, sir; it is a little early in the season yet," and he got down thelist of staterooms, showing me which were vacant. I selected anoutside double one, and deposited half the fare, in order to reserveit.

  There was nothing more to be done that night, for a glance at my watchshowed me the lateness of the hour. As I emerged from the pier, Isuddenly found myself very weary and very hungry, so I called a caband was driven direct to my rooms. A bath and dinner set me up again,and finally I settled down with my pipe to arrange the events of theday.

  Certainly I had progressed. I had undoubtedly got on the track of thefugitives; I had found out all that I could reasonably have hoped tofind out. And yet my exultation was short-lived. Admitted that I wason their track, how much nearer success had I got? I knew that theyhad sailed for France, but for what part of France? They woulddisembark at Havre--how was I, reaching Havre, two weeks later, todiscover which direction they had taken? Suppose they had gone toParis, as seemed most probable, how could I ever hope to find themthere? Even if I did find them, would I be in time to checkmateMartigny?

  For a time, I paused, appalled at the magnitude of the task that laybefore me--in all France, to find three people! But, after all, itmight not be so great. Most probably, these women were from one of thetowns Holladay and his wife had visited during their stay in France.Which towns they were, I, of course, had no means of knowing; yet Ifelt certain that some means of discovering them would present itself.That must be my work for the morrow.

  A half-hour passed, and I sat lost in speculation, watching the bluesmoke curling upward, striving vainly to penetrate the mystery. For Iwas as far as ever from a solution of it. Who were these people? Whatwas their aim? How had they managed to win Miss Holladay over to theirside; to persuade her to accompany them; to flee from herfriends--above all, from our junior partner? How had they caused herchange of attitude toward him? Or had they really abducted her? Wasthere really danger of foul play--danger that she would fall a victim,as well as her father? Who was Martigny? And, above all, what was theplot? What did he hope to gain? What was he striving for? What wasthis great stake, for which he risked so much?

  To these questions I could find no reasonable answer; I was stillgroping aimlessly in the dark; and at last in sheer confusion, I putdown my pipe, turned out the light, and went to bed.

 
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